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Fugitive mechanic in 1996 ValuJet crash 'never should have been charged,' lawyer says

Lisa J. Huriash, Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Authorities say an airline mechanic connected to ValuJet Flight 592, one of South Florida's most notorious plane crashes, has eluded them for about two decades.

He went on the run -- far from the courthouse where two colleagues were acquitted of the same criminal charges. And far from his lawyers, who were stunned he fled.

Now, almost 22 years after the crash, the FBI has thrust Mauro Ociel Valenzuela-Reyes back in the spotlight, offering a $10,000 reward for his capture.

Even all these years later, it's clear that Valenzuela-Reyes's decision to vanish was "unfortunate," says Jane Moscowitz, his lawyer when he disappeared in 1999.

But, "I have no criticism of a guy in that sort of emotional crisis."

Last week, the FBI offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of Mauro Ociel Valenzuela-Reyes, a mechanic who authorities allege played a role in a deadly 1996 plane crash.

Valenzuela-Reyes, who worked for ValuJet Airlines' maintenance contractor, SabreTech, was one of several people to become embroiled in the legal fallout from the deadly air disaster. The 1996 crash on Mother's Day weekend killed all 110 passengers and crew members on board.

The plane took off from Miami International Airport, and a fire happened in its cargo area soon after. The plane plunged into the Everglades while trying to make an emergency return to Miami.

Federal investigators blamed the fire on improperly stored cargo. Officials had alleged maintenance contractor SabreTech improperly prepared, labeled and packaged the oxygen-generating canisters believed to have caused the crash.

Valenzuela-Reyes was one of three mechanics charged in the case. But the two other mechanics -- Eugene Florence and Danny Gonzalez -- were acquitted of similar charges.

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